LONG BEACH — James Lynch knew something was wrong when he began receiving inquiries at odd hours of the night from overseas telephone operators asking him to approve charges for calls he never made.
Then came the phone bill for more than $2,000. That prompted him to put his fist through a 40-gallon aquarium, causing the death of eight innocent tropical fish.
"The whole place looked like a swimming pool," said Lynch, indicating with a wave of his still-scarred hand the living room and kitchen of the one-bedroom Long Beach apartment he shares with his fiancee and their 3-year-old daughter. "There were fish under the refrigerator."
Lynch's complaint is that for nine months General Telephone of California has mistaken him for the Queen Mary.
Told to Ignore Bills
In that time, says the 24-year-old plastics fabricator, he has called at least 20 times to complain about the bills for the abundance of telephone calls made aboard the great ship. Each time, he says, he has been assured that the problem was being taken care of and told to ignore the monthly charges that ranged from a 24-page bill for $452.20 to the one that caused the demise of the fish.
But the exorbitant bills have continued. And lately, Lynch says, the telephone company has begun to regularly disconnect his phone service for non-payment of his bill.
Jana Weatherbee, a spokesman for GTE, acknowledged that Lynch had been receiving bills intended for the floating hotel and restaurant complex. The problem, she said, began last April when Lynch was assigned a new telephone number that previously had been one of many aboard the ship.
Due to an error in GTE's central office, she said, the charges for some calls made at the Queen Mary continued to be billed to Lynch's number. But the error had been corrected as of September, she maintained. "We finally found out what the problem was and fixed it," she said, adding that the errant bills have since been rerouted.
Weatherbee could offer no explanation as to why the problem had taken six months to correct.
Lynch, though, says the problem was not solved in September. He said he has been charged for calls he did not make as recently as Dec. 13 when he received a bill for $315.83. Particularly irksome, he said, were the two recent disconnections of his service--one of which occurred while he was waiting for word on the outcome of surgery on his father.
"I waited half the night and the phone didn't ring," he recalled, "so I went to call the hospital and found out that my phone was dead. What if there was an emergency? What if the baby fell down the stairs or somebody was kicking down the door and we couldn't dial 911?"
According to Weatherbee, Lynch's telephone line was disconnected because he has not paid his bill since July. Lynch admits not paying his bill but says he was only following the phone company's instructions, which Weatherbee says he must have misunderstood.
"If he's still having a problem, we have no record of it," she said when first interviewed by The Times a week ago. "We certainly need to know about it so we can get it fixed."
Since then, company representatives have contacted Lynch to try to unsnarl his telephone problems.
Lynch, meanwhile, says he is fed up with the whole situation and wants GTE to make restitution for all his grief.
"This has disrupted my whole life," he said. "It cost me a beautiful aquarium."